Boat cleaning: do you do it yourself? Or do you call in the professionals?

BOAT MAINTENENCE - Spring Cleaning

For those of you who were silly enough to make that outlandish suggestion — and are now in the drink and can’t get out because of a shapely, high-heeled stiletto stuck in your head — you have two options when it comes to boat cleaning.

Drag yourself out of the water and do it yourself - or call in the experts.



The easiest way to make your boat shipshape is to create a to-do list. Next, go out and buy all the cleaning products and replacement gear you’ll need.

The shopping list will include products such as sugar soap, Gumption, bag of rags, VuPlex, Armor All, wax polishes, new bilge pillows, quality sponges and plenty of garbage bags. Armed with this — and plenty of elbow grease — it’s time to get down and dirty.


Boat cleaning: below decks

Boats that have been locked up for a long time get that musty odour. To rid your boat of this, remove all the sheets, bedding towels and the like and put them through a washing machine. Your mattresses and lounge cushions may need to be aired, recovered or replaced.

Galley, refrigeration, gas and water supply Scrub out your refrigeration and freezer boxes. Check the expiry date on all your long-life foods and cans and restock.
To avoid tummy upsets it’s best to flush out your water tanks. Water conditioners are available. Look for leaks in the water system and pumps.

Check the condition of your gas bottle and expiry dates — it may also need to be refilled. Check that the fridge and the stove are in good working order.

Most important of all restock the liquor bar. But, a word of warning, don’t sample the merchandise before cleaning.


Out with the old, in with the new

Say goodbye to your excess gear. And, yes, I do mean that bulky Sat-Nav that no longer works because all the satellites it was reliant upon are lying somewhere in the Simpson Desert. You, of course, keep it because it looks really impressive. I know it is heartbreaking but it’s time to send it off to the maritime museum.


Tools of the trade

An expansive tool kit is a must on any boat. Tools may need to be replaced as necessary. Fishing tackle boxes are great places to store your screws, washers, hose clamps and assorted spares.

During my first spring clean of my 44ft Gulfstar ketch Aardvark I found a nice surprise. Her former owner Don was a hoarder of notorious capabilities. Every manner of engine spares was neatly packed and clearly marked in Mrs Crockets’ plastic containers. Thank you Don.


Safety first

You can never do too much to ensure the safety of yourself and your crew. For starters, check the date on your first-aid supplies, fire extinguishers, flares and EPIRBs. With my dry powder fire-extinguishers I normally turn them upside down every few months and give the bottom a smack with a rubber mallet. This was a handy-tip given to me by a firie to prevent the dry powder from settling.

Are your lifejackets and liferings in good order? Is your VHF radio working? Your anchor windless and chain will need to be checked for wear, winches greased, blocks lubricated and liferaft or dinghy inspected. Finally, don’t forget to test your stanchions, lifelines, bow and grab rails for integrity. Ticking off these items doesn’t take long and ultimately being prepared can save a life.


Marine electronics and navigation

Are your navigation lights in working order? Is your compass accurate and your GPS and chartplotter working? If you have wet-cell batteries you will need to inspect the water level and state of charge. Hopefully, your batteries were on a trickle charge during the off-season. Also have a careful look at your terminals for corrosion. It’s time to clean and lubricate them.

Don’t forget to scrutinise electrical wiring for wear and test all your switches and gauges. Every time I do a stocktake of the boat I always find I need more spare fuses and light bulbs. It’s just one of life’s little mysteries - I never use them, but I always need more.


Enginerooms and bilges

Now it’s time to be environmentally-friendly and wet and dry vacuum the bilges and put in a new bilge pillow. You are in the realm of degreasing the engine, doing an oil change, replacing worn fan belts, installing new fuel and oil filters and replacing anodes on your inboard engine. There are zinc anodes in your engine and gearbox heat exchangers. Have a good look; they may be hard to spot. Other jobs include inspecting the water impeller and cleaning the water strainer. Don’t forget to record everything you have done in your engine-maintenance log.

Unfortunately on some boats contortionism is a prerequisite, but regardless of poor access don’t put off engine maintenance. Your safety at sea is reliant on that motor.


Cleaning through-hull fittings

Lift the floorboards and have a good poke around. Check that all your seacocks are working across the full range from open to close, look for perished hoses, corrosion, leaks and rusted hose clamps. It’s a good time to check all bilge pumps and shower-sump pumps are working.


Outboards and dinghies

Some outboard motors are just plain possessed. First comes the coughing and spluttering. Then the silence — it’s deafening. But giving your outboard a little bit of TLC can save the day.

Inspect your fuel tank for signs of water contamination, change old fuel, replace the spark plugs and give the engine a test-run flushing with freshwater. If you are going to change the engine oil it’s not much more effort to change the gearbox oil at the same time. I liberally spray Inox on all the electrical components, avoiding rubber areas such as the timing belt. A good polish on the fibreglass hull of your rubber ducky will retard marine growth for the time your dinghy spends in the water.


Cleaning a boat below the waterline

An inspection of your propeller, rudder and fittings is also a must. You need to make sure your prop isn’t fouled with growth — it may get you out of the berth but not back into it. Check all water intakes for marine growth. If you are coming up to your annual antifoul, well that is another story, which you will find in more detail on following pages.


Boat cleaning above the waterline

Clean the hull, deck and topsides using a mild detergent, such as sugar soap. Beware of harsh cleaners such as truck wash on fibreglass boats as these products may have acid in them and make your hull look dull. Test out your swimplatform and ladder for sturdiness.


Deck fittings

Never use green scourers on stainless steel deck fittings. It might seem like a good idea to speed up the job, but every scratch you make will attract salt and dirt in the future. Use a liberal amount of metal polish and plenty of patience.


Clears, hatches and portholes

I use a mild detergent and a soft sponge before applying Vuplex with a soft cloth. A word of warning when cleaning your clears: do not have sunscreen on your hands as this will etch in and leave permanent fingerprints.


Lines, sails, mast and rigging

A simple checklist here includes looking for wear and chaffing on your sails and inspecting the condition of battens and batten pockets, and all sail attachments. Take a close look at the mast and spreaders, rivets, screws, rigging and turnbuckles for wear and corrosion and inspect the stainless steel chainplates for any sign of cracking. You may also want to replace your halyards or swap them end-for-end.



It goes without saying that ensuring your registration and insurance are up to date is a must. Volunteer marine rescue membership is also cheap insurance and it pays to belong if an unexpected breakdown occurs..


Boat cleaning option 2: call in the experts

If doing it yourself sounds too much like hard work then call in the professionals. At Mackay Marina I spoke to Annette Hurley director of Boutique Marine Services.

Annette has been mucking about on boats since she was five-years-old. She now runs a professional marine service team who, unlike the “little missus”, won’t push you off the jetty when you ask them to scrub the engineroom.

“We do boat deliveries, we wash, wax, detail, provisioning, do people’s washing, ironing, dry-cleaning and we clean engines, enginerooms, bilges and toilets,” says Annette.

“We clean just about anything that your heart desires…(and) we make sure the boat is ready for you when you step onboard to go away for the weekend,” she said.

Annette also has some handy tips on the best products to use and strongly recommends that you make sure the products you apply are environmentally friendly such as Aquaviro.

“One of the biggest complaints I hear is from people who say they have a really bad smell coming from their toilet,” said Annette.

“Well, their first problem is they don’t use an eco-friendly toilet paper.

“Normal toilet paper gets stuck in the hoses and builds up and calcifies,” she says.

After that, Annette recommends a concentrated, environmentally-friendly sewerage holding tank treatment cleaner.

Marine toilet maintenance is, of course, an important job for any boatie because aside from your engine it is one of the last things you ever want breaking down at sea.


Happy boating!

Whichever option you chose, DIY or cheque book, indulging in the annual spring clean after a winter layup can be very rewarding and makes for shipshape, problem-free sailing and cruising in the summer. And right about now, after a long winter, we could do with the exercise.